Thursday, February 25, 2016

News: Devolution on the agenda in Rotherham

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Rotherham Council is close to endorsing the proposed Sheffield city region (SCR) devolution deal with the Government that is set to bring with it some £900m of additional cash over the next thirty years to deliver major regeneration, infrastructure and business growth schemes.

Chancellor George Osborne was in Rotherham on the eve of the Conservative Party Conference in October to sign the deal with local council leaders that make up the Combined Authority (CA), and the Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) - the private sector led approach to providing the strategic leadership required to set out local economic priorities.

It was only the second time in the country that such an agreement has been reached and for the SCR it is focused on economic themes such as skills, employment, advanced manufacturing, infrastructure, housing, business growth and transport. In return, the Government will require a directly elected Mayor across South Yorkshire to hold accountability for the new powers. Elections could take place as soon as May 2017 and the Mayor will chair the Sheffield City Region Combined Authority, the members of which will serve as the Mayor's Cabinet.

The signing of the "in-principle" agreement signalled the start of the negotiations which included some public consultation and requires the deal to be signed off by all constituent councils.

The deal includes a new gain share deal within an envelope of £30m a year for 30 years – giving the SCR the power to use new funding to boost local growth and invest in local manufacturing and innovation.

Further resources are due to be put at the SCR's disposal as part of the "single pot" agreed under the devolution deal. Estimates for this additional share of national funding streams to be included within the single SCR pot have been in excess of a further £1 billion but this is still being quantified through discussions with Government departments.

A report to Rotherham Council's full council meeting next month outlines what the borough can expect to get out of the deal. This includes supporting the Advanced Manufacturing Innovation District (AMID) idea which could lead to 3,500 jobs in the first five years of industrial-focused development sites.

On skills and employment the deal is expected to: support the creation of a University Campus within Rotherham town centre; prioritise the continued support for enterprising young people through Rotherham Youth Enterprise (RYE); provide a greater ability to directly fund and commission local solutions to tackle unemployment; increase the number of apprenticeships offered by Rotherham employers; give a greater say over adult skills funding.

On business support, Rotherham is to play a part in enhanced offerings stemming from the recently launched SCR Growth Hub. This includes a proposed Launch Pad project delivering a £3.9m programme of business support, backed by European funding. A project based on support to help existing businesses to grow and inward investment is also being developed with input from Rotherham Council.

A report to Sheffield Council's Overview & Scrutiny Management Committee last year highlighted "a number of challenges" with the proposals which Sheffield and SCR were keen pursue further with Government. Namely, the issue that only the voters of South Yorkshire council areas in SCR will be able to vote in the proposed Mayoral election; that the Government has set out that the mayor would essentially have veto over decisions at the Combined Authority; that more control should be handed over on issues regarding 16-18 vocational skills; and that housing remains a largely centralised policy area.

There is now provision to give greater flexibility to the five district councils within the Sheffield City Region to become full, constituent members of the CA and "it has expressly been confirmed that there is no in-built "mayoral veto" within the proposal. The relationship between the CA and the SCR Mayor is a matter that can be dealt with through a detailed refresh of the CA's constitution."

Steve Eling, policy & partnership officer at Rotherham Council put together the report recommending that the council delegates authority to the new chief executive, Sharon Kemp to consent to an enabling order that would mean that the new Mayoral Combined Authority would exist. The proposal means that central Government can develop the necessary legislation to put it on a statutory footing during 2016/17.

Eling explained: "The reason for this recommendation is that, although the order will be modest in scope, the legislation does specifically require each constituent council within the SCR to consent to the making of the order, and this must be done by May 2016.

"From a practical point of view, it would be difficult to arrange a further Council meeting to approve the order when the final text is issued. All SCR member authorities, as part of the local ratification process, are therefore being asked to agree to delegate authority to their chief executives to provide the required consent to the enabling order, in due course.

"The more significant matters of detail with regard to functions, governance, finance and electoral arrangements will be contained in later legislative orders which will also require formal consent. These must be approved by the end of June to meet the parliamentary timetable."

Rotherham Council website
Sheffield City Region LEP website

Images: Sheffield City region LEP

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